Canadian Mining Journal


HEALTH: Inhaling aluminum dust may lead to later problems

There was a time a few decades ago when hard-rock miners could look forward to respiratory problems after years underground. They suffered silicosis from inhaling silica particles. Gold miners and uranium miners in particular were hard hit. Thanks to modern ventilation, this lung disease is pretty much a thing of the past.

Between 1943 and 1980 many mines in Canada, the United States, Western Australia, Mexico, and Africa required the inhalation of aluminum dust, known as McIntyre powder, before the start of every shift. The dust was thought to coat the lung surfaces and protect them from the abrasive effects of silica, although there was no medical evidence to support the belief.

Now it seems that practice has its own set of hazards. Aluminum is a known neurotoxin.

In October 2016, Janice Martell organized the first intake clinic for Ontario miners who routinely inhaled aluminum dust in Sudbury, ON. Her father, who worked underground in 1978 and 1979, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Martell wanted to investigate whether there is anything linking exposure to McIntyre powder with the disease. The clinic was organized with the help of the United Steelworkers.

The clinic focused on workers from Timmins and Elliot Lake, ON. The silica content in gold mines is about 30 to 40% and in uranium mines about 80%. Participants were interviewed about where they worked, how long they were exposed to aluminum dust, how it was dispensed, and whether they were exposed to other contaminants.

Following that, a medical history was taken. Each person went over what illnesses they may have had or has currently. That information is captured on body maps. The maps show at a glance the types, frequency and locations of health problems. Physicians at the clinic could spot unusual patterns and ask follow-up questions.

For more information, please visit the McIntyre Powder Project website or call 800-461-7120. Names and information can be added to the voluntary registry, or you can find news, resources and links.

The McIntyre Powder Project can also be found on Facebook.